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Q&A w/ David Raab on Flipping Funnels

Last week, we a pulled a double header: sitting down with both Matt Heinz and Jon Miller to discuss some of the highlights of the ABM movement.

The response was unbelievable. So, we’re keeping this rolling into a hat trick with David Raab.

When it comes to sales and marketing, David just seems to always have just been here. When I got into the field in 2008, he was there and widely regarded as a top expert. On David’s site, it states he has more than 30 years in the space, almost more than I’ve been alive, and even that seems to be a humble statement.

He’s not flashy, he doesn’t brag, his site looks like it may be hosted at Geocities and no one cares – it’s simply known that he’s just that good. For years, David has published one of the most Definitive Guides in marketing before the concept of a “definitive guide” was even a thing: The Raab Report. He’s one of the most important names in the space and he’s seen more than many of us “consultants” put together so it made him a hyper-logical stop on my cruise through ABM.

I caught up with David via phone. And with what I envision is a laboratory buzzing behind him, we got right down to business.

David, when it comes to ABM, what do you think about the concept as a methodology?

DR:  It makes perfect sense. Sales people have always thought in terms of accounts, so ABM is really just about marketing people thinking the same way. It’s the alignment we’ve always been looking for, except that now it is marketing adapting the sales perspective rather than asking salespeople to think like marketers. Even though I’m a marketer myself, I have to agree that the sales perspective is the one that should be used in this case.

Last week when I spoke to Matt and Jon it seemed like they both agreed that companies were doing a good job at Account Selection and Planning, so I asked David:

Is it marketing’s job to bring better data sources to the account planning process?

DR: Well, that’s one job. Marketers do have access to more data sources than sales departments, which mostly rely on information they gather directly. One of the reasons that ABM is getting so much attention right now is there are so many commercial sources of data that are potentially useful.

Marketers are better positioned to evaluate, deploy, and distribute data from those sources because they can do it for the entire company not just one salesperson at a time. Marketers can also use the data to reach large audiences in ways that sales people cannot. Those are still targeted, account-based audiences, of course. And marketers are positioned to act as a sort of safety net to reach people that sales has missed for whatever reason, such as dormant prospects or accounts who are now ready for reactivation.

I shared with David that many of the folks I’ve been talking to share the notion that marketing should own the customer relationship and asked if he thought this was correct.

DR: Are we still having that discussion? The customer owns the relationship, no one else. Sales and marketing both interact with the customer, as do operations, service and support. They all have an influence on the relationship: in fact, operations almost always has a greater impact than anyone else.

If you want to talk about who should manage or supervise the relationship, well, if there’s a human being involved, they are probably going to do a better job of understanding and reacting to customer needs than any automated system. That human is more likely to be in sales or customer success management (which used to be account management, I believe) than in marketing. But everybody still has to cooperate to deliver on whatever strategy and tactics are set for the account – so ownership shouldn’t come into it.

Interesting. This is the first time I’ve seen someone so bullish on sales in ABM, and I like it. That does, however, compound the next question even more.

Is customer engagement by way of ABM scalable?

DR: Absolutely. That’s another reason ABM is so popular right now. We have technology to tailor treatments much more precisely than ever before. This includes more data to guide the treatments, more refined analytics to decide which treatment is best in each situation, and more flexible and efficient execution tools to deliver those treatments. None of those were previously available individually, let alone combined in an integrated system.

Of course, it will take some time for marketers to figure out how to manage account-level engagements effectively, since that is different from managing individual leads or prospects.

Realistically, you’ll still have something looks a lot like the traditional sales funnel with content appropriate to each stage. But ABM will also be tailoring content to personas and roles on the buying team, so you will have multiple dimensions to deal with. Computers can handle this complexity pretty easily, but people will have to work pretty hard to visualize all the moving parts.

Incidentally, I’ve also started to worry about too much personalization – a “missing the forest for the trees” problem that I illustrate with the Personalized Mona Lisa. Sometimes you have to show people the big picture and let them figure out what they want to do with it. (See this blog post for more on that topic.)

The takeaway

I always enjoy talking with David for the simple fact that he can make things seem like a no-brainer. So many consultants have a tendency to make things sound complicated for the sake of creating a complex process to solve.

In our conversation, the fact that ABM really is just good relevant buyer conversations kept surfacing. By taking those conversations and threading them through the organization’s buying centers we form a relationship that is hard to unravel at the 11th hour or even when something goes wrong.

I’m looking forward to seeing David talk more about the MarTech landscape as it relates to building a strong ABM process at #FlipMyFunnel in Austin next week. His session is titled Building Your Account-Based Marketing Stack and it will cover the specific technologies we’ve talked about here at a high level in much greater detail.

You can check out the entire FMF agenda here and I hope to see you next week as we all share our strategies for ABM success.

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